Story 28

Powerful Layers Accelerate Life

To be honest, I don’t really know where to begin.  I tend to over analyze most situations, and figuring out why F3 means so much to me and others, is one of the things I have thought about a lot. I have said since day one that there are many layers to F3, which is why it is so powerful for myself and so many other men.  Here is my attempt to put my thoughts on paper.  

F3 is fellowship/brotherhood. We attempt to leave no man where we found him. Helping others improve is invigorating. The high impact men that join you in fitness, fellowship, and faith provide an example, motivation, accountability, and so much more. 

F3 brothers provide support, feedback, and accountability. 

F3 helps build leadership skills

F3 is learning how to live 3rd

F3 is a physical outlet

F3 makes you better because there is consistent, intentional, and direct contact with other strong individuals.  Iron sharpens iron is not just a tagline in this group.

F3 is a place where you can explore your faith and spirituality without being judged. 

F3 allows you to get creative; aka you are free to lead however you want

F3 is kinda rogue; it’s definitely not status quo fitness or fellowship

F3 is a way to get outside, get fresh air, and connect with our physical environment 

F3 is competition if that is what you are looking for. It’s also you vs you, no one will call you out for being out of shape or modifying a workout. 

F3 is slowly getting prepared for whatever life throws at you; you never know when it’s going to get tough

F3 is community leadership and giving yourself to a greater cause bigger than yourself.

F3 is a collection of very solid advice and virtues all written down in the Q source material 

F3 is a push that will take you further than you thought possible.  

My F3 story starts with Thai Guy, who EHed me on a Thursday during our first “fishing, fellowship, and faith” church group meeting.  He told me to show up on Saturday and be ready to workout. At first, I thought it was crazy to show up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning.  When I arrived I noticed that a few guys had started at 5:30 am to ruck before the beatdown! I thought to myself, who in the heck would get up at 5:30 am on a weekend to work out for 2 hours. Well, that person is now me.

It is crazy how many layers there are to F3.  Guys come out to a workout thinking they might get physically stronger, but they end up with so much more. I know for me, the first thing I needed to overcome was getting up early and fighting the fatigue following workouts.  But after a while, my body adjusted, and I learned how to embrace the discomfort. The guys within the group made it worth it to keep coming back. Next thing you know, I was signing up for the Frog ruck that started at 3:00 am! While I admit I questioned my decision to join the Frog while doing 50 burpees with a 30 lb. ruck sack at 3:45 in the morning, the guys around me made it worth it.  I knew I was part of a TEAM and the PAX would push me through. That sums up F3, top quality men who continuously push others to come out and get a little better each day in their fitness, fellowship, and faith.

When I first started F3 I thought I was doing pretty well in life (thinking that I was at least keeping up with the so called status quo). Looking back, I realize I was on a slow decline.  It is now clear to me that in order to accelerate, I must work to keep relationships with other men who are virtuous leaders. F3 provides that and more. Thank you to the PAX who haven’t left me where they found me. 

Eric “Isosceles” Puffenberger

December 2019

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Story 27

An Answer to an Unspoken Prayer

F3 was, literally, an answer to an unspoken prayer. Over the last few years, I had lost two men that had been strong mentors in my life. My father-in-law had died unexpectedly, and a good, older male friend of mine had moved a few states away to be with his family. It had created a hole that I sensed needed to be filled. But, I wasn’t sure how. I have many people in my life, but few close friends. I am great at making acquaintances, but making close friends can be a struggle for me. I knew I needed more men of substance in my life for me to grow and be better. 

Exercise was something I enjoyed, but I would get bored with easily. I had tried different programs, but I would lose focus with them quickly and fall off the wagon. Running has always been something that I enjoyed, but, other than that, I was a fish out of water. So, I feel it was more God’s timing and not my workout ethic that had me packing my bag to head to the Y on a random Friday in July. There, I ran into two gentlemen, Hazmat and Tupac (not their given names) in the parking lot. Hazmat, I knew slightly from church. I gave them the “manly” head nod and a “hello” and then spent the next 15 minutes being told about this workout group called F3 that was open to men and free of charge. I told them that I would try and be out on Monday. 

Part of me is still surprised I made it out that Monday. Showing up to random events like that is not in my comfort zone. But, I figured that it would be a bunch of middle aged men, and being a “runner”, I could hold my own. Boy, was I wrong! After meeting men named Q*bert, Stark, and Casper and after rounds of running hills, burpees, and things called Merkins (push-ups), American Hammers (Russian Twists), and Big Boi’s (sit ups), I was trying not to splash my merlot (throw up). At the end of it, I was toasted and stoked. I got my own F3 name (Montoya), and I couldn’t wait to show up again. These were men who I didn’t have to try and be anything around. These men, who didn’t judge me in many of the ways I judge myself, didn’t care about my occupation, my income level, or my education. All they cared about was what they could do to help me be a better man, and they asked me to do the same for them. A core tenant of F3 is to leave no man behind but to leave no man where you found him. 

Throughout my year at F3, I have met men who I call brother, and deeply mean it. I have love and respect for each one of them. The workouts are varied and are only limited by the creativity of the man leading it. I have a great, but busy life. I have a wonderful wife of 14 years, five awesome children. I work as a nurse at an area hospital and am in school. My life is full, and at times, stress filled. But, it doesn’t matter the mood that I am in at the start of the workout, I am always smiling and laughing at the end. It doesn’t matter if I am there every day, or once every other week. I am always welcomed, and people are quick to check in on me if I am out for too long. I am surrounded by examples of high quality husbands, fathers, workers and leaders that push me to be the best version of myself. F3 fills a spot that I didn’t even fully know that I needed filled. These men are a true gift from God.

Ron “Montoya” Stowers

October 2019

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Story 26

Double Respect is Earned

I am not quite sure how or even where to begin. I have never been one to keep a diary or a journal. Never given much thought about trying to convey to others the reason why I chose to do something or join a particular group. At 61, I’m really starting to find this Zen state where my experiences and intuition combine. For me, it came down to a couple of things. I’m reliant on my intuition…my gut feeling. Trust my instincts, and then decide. There are so many things I “could do” and I have to decide what “to do”. All of my decisions are really made on my intuition…what seems right at this moment in time, which is how and why I got to this place and F3.

It was a Monday evening, June 13, 2018, a new “AO” location, an early summer storm on the horizon with the distant sound of thunder and the threat of lightning. The Q, Matt “Stark” Yarder, was seriously contemplating calling it for the night before the Beatdown even began. Fortunately for me, in typical F3 fashion, Stark didn’t call it, and I participated in my first F3 workout: “always outside-regardless of weather”… and “IT” began…and I have not looked back since.

At my age, I wasn’t really looking for another group to belong to. I wasn’t necessarily looking to expand my friendships. I wasn’t even looking for an avenue or new venue to workout. I had already retired and had begun the arduous process of slowly winding down on several Boards and organizations that I had been actively involved with for years. I considered myself pretty fit, active and in pretty good shape. I certainly planned to remain active and connected to serving my community. So, why this thing called F3? What was my intuition…my gut telling me?

As Vice Chair of the YMCA Board at the time, there was a fellow Board Member, Jonathan “Bourbon” Burns, who consistently attended our Tuesday morning Board meeting just coming from a workout. I later found out the workouts were Tuesday morning F3 Beatdowns. Bourbon finally explained in detail what F3 was all about. Not yet convinced that this group was legit, I decided to do what most people do today…I Googled F3. Coincidentally, there appeared in the local newspaper, an impressive and very informative feature article all about F3/FiA Toledo. I was satisfied, even curious…but still a bit skeptical. So I decided to check out F3 in Perrysburg! To my amazement and absolutely satisfying my over-skeptical-self, I was very impressed with my first Beatdown (even though the weather threatened to cancel it before it got started). How totally impressed I was with my first Q…Stark! How very thankful and appreciative I was and am with Bourbon…the guy who EH’d me!

It’s not all about Fitness…however?

Even though I thought of myself as pretty fit, reasonably in good shape, weight-height in good proportion and able to hold my own with guys nearly half my age, to be honest, there was always room for improvement. Having been married for 35 years, I didn’t need the “love handles” any longer. I needed to increase my stamina and am always looking for ways to keep one foot out of the grave. So what the heck? Right? The Fitness of F3 looked inviting. The peer pressure and encouragement was an added bonus and certainly has held me accountable. So with all the crazy nicknames for each other, the strange and unusual exercise names for what otherwise are just plan old pushups or jumping jacks, I jumped in totally…and it has been an awesome ride ever since!

Golden sunlight one day, black skies and wind blown rain the next. Freezing cold and snow drift days to sweltering heat, the weather is capricious…typical of northwest Ohio. But, I have tried to make F3 Fitness a routine part of my daily life. The motivation, encouragement, support and accountability…the fraternal bond from men like Thai Guy, Stark, Bourbon, Isosceles, Sipe, Charmin, Klinger, Geppetto, Flo to name just a few, has been an inspirational experience that I didn’t expect, but wholeheartedly welcome and greatly appreciate! Whether we are rucking through the middle of the night, Indian running in sub-zero temperatures or carrying 45 pound “coupons” through an obstacle course, we are there for each other to get the job done and never leaving the “Six” behind…which at times, has been me!

Yes Fitness…but definitely Fellowship!

While F3 absolutely takes its Fitness seriously, Fellowship is paramount to the core – the very foundation of F3. Without Fellowship, there is not the connectivity – the accountability of the Fitness! I was not expecting nor seeking the quality nor quantity of friendships that I have developed through F3. I have formed some of the most amazing friendships with men of F3.

Those that I have come to lean on and depend upon, and celebrate them for being a part of my life! In most cases, these are guys that I would not have normally met…guys that more than likely traveled in different circles. Men that I would ruck through the night with; guys that I would venture on a “survival” trip with; that I would co-chair a major fundraising initiative with; co-Q a Beatdown with, or guys that I would learn how to fish with. One such person is Jay “Thai Guy” Solarik – “Shield Lock”, “Whetstone”, “Blade”, “Turkey Punch”…someone who has become a tremendous personal friend, confidant and support! The men of F3 have truly and significantly made a tremendous impact on my life and continue to have a positive and worthwhile influence.

Add a little Faith and one comes full circle in F3!

Then there is this Faith component…that actually takes on several meanings at the same time. There is the obvious one…a Faith in something bigger than ourselves – something universal…yes God! I have always been “religious” – church going, Roman Catholic, a community centered around the Eucharist, but F3 takes Faith to new heights. It provides an opportunity, an outlet if you will, to put our Faith into practical – relevant experience. To celebrate each other’s differences while sharing, discussing and even healthily debating our religious beliefs. We all come from different levels of Faith, different religious backgrounds and different ideas and concepts of what it is to be faithful. The take-away is that it is the very differences and unique views and interpretations of the Bible, the “What-What”, what Faith means to each of us that actually is the bond and familiarity that we all celebrate and have come to appreciate. A similar Faith in God, in humanity, as good stewards of our environment, to promote, encourage, nurture, and yes, even roll up our sleeves to get the job done! As F3’s mission states; “to build leaders in our community”…we are also building relationships and friendships, building community, building presence, building future, building Faith.

So after 250+ Posts, countless Q’s, membership in The Century Club, a second place finish in Winter Challenge 2019, two FROG Rucks, a number of GORucks, Cherry Street Mission, and of course meeting hundreds of terrific F3 Brothers, I have realized that F3 is exactly what it claims to be! It’s a brotherhood of Fitness, Fellowship and Faith that transcends age, physical ability, economic and social status, educational attainment and religious affiliations. It’s a true fraternity of believers and doers that understands and appreciates that fitness of mind, body and soul makes a better man, friend, husband, father and citizen. Together, we encourage and support each other to make a better community in which we live, work and play.

Even though I wasn’t really looking for “IT”…I am pretty sure and most blessed that I have found “IT”. So at 60, there is a custom of being honored with “Double Respect” within the “Circle of Trust”. While certainly that is an honor and very much appreciated, especially when the average age of F3 Toledo might be like 30-45, it is a moniker that, at least for this 60+, I take seriously. It is more than just an age differential. It is something that should be earned…something that comes with a certain level of responsibility. The lexicon “Virtuous Leader” comes to mind. The moral of this story might be: the more you do, the more you learn. The more you learn from doing, the more trust and ease you’ll have in yourself. The more trust you have with yourself, the easier it’ll become to be a positive influence to others when the time calls for it. At the end of the day, my decision to be a part of F3, net net, was one of the most important and beneficial decisions I have ever made!

So as we meet each other in the gloom, let us dwell on what and how and who impacts our lives the most because of F3, how we are most impacted and how we can best impact each other and our community through F3. Service Above Self…Fitness amongst each other, Fellowship with each other and within our community, and Faith in and because of each other and through God.


Rick “Huckleberry” Thielen 

December, 2019

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Story 25

The Six

The idea of the “Six” in the Count O Rama has been very interesting and enlightening to me ever since a couple of F3 Toledo Pax brought it back from F3 Louisville. The sixth man in the Count O Rama shares a little bit about their F3 journey, including who headlocked them, how they got their F3 nickname, and what F3 means to them. The idea of talking in front of everyone about what this amazing group means to you is amazing. During F3 Toledo’s 2019 Winter Challenge, I believe I was the 6 on more than 50% of the beatdowns that I attended. I felt like I opened up. But, that short couple of minutes is simply not enough to explain how I have been transformed by this group and all of the amazing men that I can now call my friends.

Rewind back to Labor Day of 2017, I had been getting hounded by my brother, Mater, and my co-worker, Mickey, to come out to F3. All summer long, the idea of waking up at 5:00 am and working out simply wasn’t important to me at all. I knew that I was out of shape, and I knew that I needed to do something. But, I was comfortable being in a state of contentment, even if it wasn’t the best me, physically or mentally. 

Mater convinced me to come out on Labor Day because “Hey, it’s a holiday, and we work out an hour later”, so I could get up at 6:00 am instead of 5:00 am. I initially told him I was going to come out just to get him to stop bugging me, fully intending to skip in the morning. Fortunately, I know God had a plan for me, and he wanted me to be a part of this group. 

The night before Labor Day, we were at our neighbor’s house with a couple of other people from the neighborhood, and somehow, F3 came up. One of the people at the house was Rose, and I made the mistake of telling him that I was contemplating going to F3 in the morning. He told me that since I told him I was thinking about going, now I had to show up. I thought, “Great, another person to hound me about F3. I guess I better just go and get it over with and say I tried it.” 

That was my mindset coming into the beatdown, and I fully intended to just quit after trying it. Rose had told me the night before that Monday workouts were always a “Murph”. I knew what the Murph was, and, needless to say, I was not exactly thrilled to be doing it the next morning. I got through maybe half of the workout before time was called to head the mile back to Faith Hill. I was sore for days after this because I was completely out of shape and hadn’t done anything like that ever. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I came out to a few more workouts. But, I never really tried to enter the group or make any friends because I had already had it in my mind that I wasn’t going to continue.

I feel that telling the background to my life story and my complete rock bottom is very integral to elaborating what F3 now means to me. 

Ever since I was in high school, I have suffered with severe depression and anxiety issues. I was always the type of person who would put on a happy face during the day because it wasn’t tough, or manly, or whatever, to be sad or vulnerable and reach out to somebody. Or, so I thought. I kept everything bottled up inside of me for 4 years, and finally my world came crumbling down on top of me in the fall of 2004 when I ventured off to college at Purdue. Having no one I knew within 4 hours of me, on top of feeling crippling depression and anxiety, was too much for me to deal with. Within 4 weeks of school starting, I knew I was never going to make it, and I was either going to kill myself, or I had to get home. 

At the time, I felt like such a failure and a worthless person. But, little did I know that decision to drop out of school, return home, and start life over was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I was finally able to admit to myself, my family, and my friends that I had a problem, and I needed to get help for it, or else I wasn’t going to live very long. Once I came home, I started medication and seeing a doctor regularly. I met my wife a month later, and we began dating 6 months after that. We are now married with 2 beautiful children. 

Roughly three months after both of my kids were born, I had severe relapses back into a state of depression, anxiety and panic. My second child was born in August of 2016. So during the summer of 2017, when Mickey and Mater were hounding me about me joining F3, I was thinking about how I wanted to die, and everyone would be better off without me. I felt worthless and completely lacked any motivation to want to improve myself. That was the state of my mind when I came out on Labor Day 2017, and that continued until December 2017, when I finally committed myself to wanting to be a better man, a better father, and just better myself physically and mentally. I posted 3 times in 12 days when I started, and I fell off the map until 12/27/17. 

I don’t know what it was that sparked my interest in coming back into the group. But when I did, I immediately felt like everyone welcomed me back in with open arms. This was a first for me, anytime I had gone long droughts without seeing someone or doing something with a group, there was always this attitude of “where have you been”, “why are you back now”, etc. But, this was different. Everyone was just so kind and supportive of me. 

When I started back with the group, I began to hear about the GrowRuck that was taking place in April 2018. I was intrigued and decided to sign up. That meant I had 4 months to get myself back into decent shape and also buy a lot of things for this “free” group, haha. In the months leading up to the GrowRuck, I had a lot of text conversations with Colonel. To this day, I can remember the words he told me, the faith that he had in me, but that I had yet to find in myself. Those conversations started to break down the walls that I had put up. They allowed me to start to open up and actually try to fit into the group, instead of just being a person working out with other people. 

By the time GrowRuck came around, I was terrified because I didn’t think I was strong enough, mentally or physically, to be able to complete the event. During the middle of the night, I had severe doubts about myself and those words from Colonel just kept playing on repeat. I thought “if he is so confident in me, there has to be something there that I can use.” I was able to make it to the dawn, and I remember when we walked back into Camp Miakonda I thought the event was over. I began to tear up because I felt good with myself for the first time in a very long time. I was able to push myself mentally and physically, and I performed and pulled my fair share of weight for the team. 

However, we were not done yet. After a break and some personal stories at the amphitheater, it was time for our Platoon to serve our penalty from earlier in the night. We had to carry the other two Platoons rucks around the lake and back to the start. This was horrifying to me, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to do it. About halfway around the lake, one of the three rucks began falling off of me, and I couldn’t get it back to a comfortable position. At that time, Colonel was to my left, and for a brief second, I was about to ask him to take one for me. But, he said something to me at that moment, and I was able to pull it back together. I was able to get the rucks back in place and finish with him and Ollie. I never thought it would be possible to finish with those guys just a couple months earlier. 

That event really opened my eyes to what I can do mentally and physically. When I first started F3, I told Mickey and Mater I never wanted to lead a workout, and I was fully committed to that until the end of the GrowRuck. Once GrowRuck ended and so many kind words I received from a lot of the Pax who knew my doubts, I felt this desire and need to show what I had learned and lead a  beatdown. And lead I did, leading my first beatdown about 2 weeks later in May 2018. 

My commitment to my physical and mental battle through F3 was tested again in June of 2018. After being a continual presence at beatdowns since the beginning of 2018, my family went on vacation to Tucson. I went a week without even thinking of getting up early. At that time, I was still not disciplined enough to go a week off and get back in the routine. Unfortunately after returning from Tucson, I was MIA until September 2018. I participated in Trinity’s Capture the Flag ruck event that September and was MIA again until November 2018. In that time, I had received so many messages from various Pax, seen a lot of people out at grocery stores, or soccer games that really wanted me to come back. That was new to me and I finally knew that I needed to get back out in the gloom with all the guys. I have been going out to F3 religiously since November 2018, and it has been such a help to me. I have gone since January 2018 without really having any depression issues. I have gained so much confidence in myself and gained so much knowledge to live by, both mentally and spiritually, from all of the Pax. I have become more physically fit than I had been since I had Achilles surgery in 2014. At that time, I was in peak running shape and was running a couple half marathons a year. I had just completed my first marathon the prior year. Since Achilles surgery, I was never able to get back into a running routine and just became content with whatever my body was going to become. I feel physically better about myself. I am not at what I would call my goal weight, but I am at least working towards it. That wouldn’t be possible without the help of all of the F3 Toledo Pax.

Needless to say, F3 Toledo has changed my life for the better. Along with returning home from Purdue back in 2004, joining F3 is one of the top 3 decisions I have made in my life. I couldn’t imagine my life without you guys, your push, and your support through whatever life is throwing at me. I no longer feel alone in my life. I now feel like I have several life long friends that truly care about my well being and how I am doing. I truly thank each and every one of you for saving my life in one way or another.

Aaron “Danica” Feller

August 2019

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Story 24

From Lonely, “Sad Clown”
to Clowning with Pals
and Getting Yoked

Illustration by Vince “Pixar” Palko at AdToons

They say most men live lives of quiet desperation. I could relate to that…a ton! 

It was the year 2007, like a frigid dousing of water  slapping me in the face, I sat in my favorite chair in the living room…stunned. 

Where once there were three girls under the age of 6 screaming, laughing and carrying on…there was now nothing. Feeling the cold leather armrest under my hand while I gripped it tightly, “What just happened?” The silence was deafening. Cursing all those days that I wished for silence in the house, I pleaded to an invisible shrink across the room to have it all back. 

This was the first night spent without my family. My wife (ex, now) took our three girls and moved into another house. A clear marker when my life began a slow downturn. Then the questions…“How could a Division I, mentally-tough-Butkus-award-nominee fail at the most important event in this chapter of his life? How could this happen to a two-time captain who led championship teams to victories?” 

Tears welled up in my eyes like someone filling buckets of water under a spigot.

Life after that grew lonely. Fast.

Many of my friends at the time were married. That’s the lie I told people who asked, “why don’t you go out now that you are free?” The reality — I had about a total of two friends who were divorced and available to “hang out.” Kiss your married friends goodbye. Have you ever tried to cajole a married man away from his wife to grab a beer? It’s not easy. And I get it. When I went to school functions, I had a few acquaintances to walk up to. But there were times when I’d be at these same functions feeling isolated and heading for the door as soon as I could because I maxed out time with those few friends.

Did I ever go out with other groups besides these two pals. Yes.

However these two were my homies. The challenge is that our topic of conversations were mainly about the nagging ex-wives. And nothing really productive. Nothing wrong with these guys; I’m still pals with them today. However, I always secretly wanted more friends. More options. More people who were aligned with achieving more out of life. Pushing ourselves to be better and not just slug brews in a bar or golf on weekends. 

My college football buddies for the most part faded with my divorce. Hey, I get it. We didn’t have much in common anymore. 

I remember clearly a few prayers sent up to the heavens. Lord, I’d like to have a couple more friends. Ones that are more aligned with my values. I know there are more fellas in this community with whom I can connect. I recall praying for this several times over the course of the last several years. There has to be a group I can get involved in. I looked on Meetup a couple times. That’s not for me. You never know who will show up at those spots. When I don’t have my children, life is pretty boring. The last thing I wanted was to be that guy who has two friends show up at his funeral several years down the road. 

Fast forward to last year in April. While at work in our production studio at the office, a call came in.

And it was a guy I recognized as a gent who I met back in 2015 at a cross country practice for my daughter. I was kind of hanging out by myself. Never really could make small talk with the other parents. But this guy, he was different. He was go-getter. Personable. A former athlete. We had a few things in common, and we hit it off from the start. 

The name came across my phone as Jared “Bielinski’s friend,” who was a mutual acquaintance of ours. And I didn’t know Jared’s last name. 

I set the phone down. “What the heck does he want?” We always said we’d stay in touch to maybe grab a beer, but I was in the middle of something. Five minutes later, I picked up my phone and listened to an audio recording, “Vince, this is Jared. We met at cross country. I’m not here trying to sell you anything. But I have something you might be interested in.”

Those few sentences changed the course of my life forever. I furiously called him back curious as hell. And after we spoke, I was hooked. We did three or four workouts pre-launch teamed up with the other regulars Bryan (Klinger) and Jason (Brute). 

Early on, the group of 3 invited me to “clown car” to Cleveland at 4am for a workout!!! I politely declined. I also declined the first time Jared (Colonel) asked me to go to grab bagels with him and Bryan. Hey, you gotta break me in slowly. 

The week before our launch, Colonel, myself, and Klinger were in Barry Bagels. Colonel asked Klinger, “Do you think you can really get 8 guys there next week?” 

Klinger replied, “Nothing has changed since you last asked me that 30 minutes ago…Yes!”

Colonel was nervous and anxious that no one would show up. I asked him, “Let’s say only 5 total show up, are we going to stop doing this?”

“No,” he said, “We are doing this!”

“Exactly, then let’s not sweat it. We are good,” I replied.

Then May 13, 2017 hit and everything changed. We had an amazing turnout of 46 guys. Picture a tailgate before a football game with a lot full of cars, but this group of men were all ages and sizes — stretching and warming up. That workout, like the previous pre-launch ones, blasted me. I felt spent, but I felt elated to have gone through a tough one with these new friends. And ever since my health and my outlook on life has drastically changed. 

Ever since that Saturday morning, I’m active in some way shape or form. I’m more health conscious. I no longer look in the mirror in disgust. Exercising with the PAX cures the loneliness of living in my empty house when my children are not with me. My girlfriend helps with that as well. 🙂

If you have ever run a marathon, you understand the feeling of 40,000 people snaking through a city, all with a common goal – cross the finish line! The energy you feel along the way is one of camaraderie. It’s one of pure positive energy that pulls you thru the race by the kind gestures and feedback from other racers along the way.

And that’s kinda the feeling you get with F3. But not really. There’s more. 

Imagine walking into a breakfast joint and half the people in there notice you and call you by your name. 

I used to crave something to do to get out of my house when the girls were with their mother. Since joining F3, there is always something going on. I have lunches with the fellas 1-2 times a week. We have breakfast every weekend. When you walk into one of these settings, everyone knows you and you feel a kinship, a belonging to a tribe that makes you feel great. 

My business is better because I’m always distracted with something going on in F3 instead of sitting around stressing about typical small-business stuff. Plus, this is an amazing networking tool. But in a way that naturally happens…it doesn’t feel forced. Leaving the office to have lunch allows you to meet someone who knows someone who needs what you do. And there are other opportunities to get to know one another. In our 2nd F (fellowship) events and the workouts themselves. Take a workout for example. One morning, I was out on a ruck (special forces style training with a weighted backpack while walking). Modell and I struck up a conversation. We shared what our jobs were. Turns out this meeting had synergistic energy, and we decided to have his people meet with my people. It’s led to some interesting possibilities on the business front. You never know who you are standing next to or what their connections might be until you ask questions about your F3 brother. 

And that brings me to one of the most important reasons I’ve stuck around in this group. 

That important reason for staying the course in F3 is the men. Good quality, trash talking, solid men who are liking to be and do better things. They have taken me in like one of their own. I’ve shared some very personal stuff with several of them, and they always have my back. 

What I appreciate about this group is every time we finish a workout we end in a COT – that’s code for “circle of trust.” We pray for families and individuals big and small. We share things we don’t typically share in a normal setting. This is your time to get things off your chest. And this is something we don’t share outside the circle. 

Let me tell you another aspect of F3 that always amazes me. Picture a brotherhood expanding outside your city limits. One that is nationwide and one day worldwide. I traveled back to my hometown of Stow, Ohio around Memorial Day. My brotherin-law, Bundy, was in town and always up for a workout. We set out to travel north (an hour) to workout with the F3 Cleveland chapter. We showed up and met guys like Mr Kotter, Magoo, Buchanan, and Patton. These guys took us in like their own… provided a wonderful beatdown (exercise) and then invited us for some 2nd F (fellowship) afterwards. We truly felt we were one of their tribe too. And we had only met one time before at our Toledo launch. I’ve worked out in Chicago as well and have realized if you travel, you will always find an AO (area of operation) to start your day off the right way. F3 and its network of fine men make you proud to be one of them. 

We have donated toys to children at Toledo hospital. We have sponsored families at Christmas and raised money for charities. I have a feeling this is just the beginning for this group. 

Bottom line, F3 is about something bigger than you and me. These men have honor, discipline, integrity, leadership, and a thirst to be more — that in turn makes you a better man. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like men I want to be around, because iron sharpens iron. 

Are all my challenges gone and life completely fulfilled? No. However, I’ll tell you that life is a ton easier to navigate when you are surrounded by outstanding men. And you can share your challenges in a non-judgmental arena. I’m grateful for God answering prayers. And I am grateful  for this fine group of men. 

When you join up with us, my goal is to make you feel welcome…that’s part of my role as 2nd F Q (facilitator of our fellowship gatherings). Even deeper than making you feel welcome, I want you to feel essential to our group…just like a guy named Jared (The Colonel) did for me and many other PAX members! 

Expect one more thing working out side-by-side with me in the gloom…“Good stuff, mang!”

Vince “Pixar” Palko

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Story 23

Strength Through Brotherhood

Illustration by Vince “Pixar” Palko at AdToons

My story begins several years before F3 came to Toledo. When my second child was born in 2009, I was 60 pounds overweight and in poor condition physically. I was 30 years old but felt much older than that, like my best years were behind me. I successfully lost about 25 pounds by his first birthday through diet but without any exercise. Three years later, I had regained 15 of those pounds, and so began another round of weight loss, this time with some moderate exercise thrown in. Finally, I was no longer obese – just overweight! Unfortunately I regained some of this weight but not all of it. 

In January 2015, my wife and I decided to separate. It was an amicable separation, and we parted as partners and co-parents in raising our children. This life event pushed me to once again improve my body and to channel some of my stress and emotions. 

For several years, I wanted to run a 5K. I did track and cross country as a child, but I didn’t continue it through high school or as an adult. I did two 5Ks in the previous 2 years, but I was unable to run the entire race, easily becoming winded due to lack of cardio stamina and conditioning. My company was hosting a 5K on the campus and encouraged all the employees to download an app called C25K (couch to 5K) for training. The week before the 5K, I ran 4 miles during a training run. I completed the 5K in May 2015 easily in a little over 27 minutes. One of my friends encouraged me to train for a marathon which sounded crazy to me at the time.

Fast forward 18 months later, and I ran my first marathon, the NYC Marathon, in November 2016. NYC is my hometown and the excitement and energy during the race was incredible. I injured myself during my training and didn’t complete all of it. A combination of determination, Ibuprofen, and divine intervention propelled me and my strained calf muscle to finish the marathon in just under 5 hours. It was one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment in my life. Additionally, I lost another 35 pounds during this time, and I was finally at a normal weight and BMI for the first time as an adult. 

However, my physical transformation was nowhere close to being complete. I lost a lot of muscle in addition to fat during my weight loss and running. I was looking for something to take my conditioning to the next level. I began seeing a personal trainer at my company’s gym to start lifting weights. I was also doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes there as well. 

Then, I received the very unfortunate news in March 2017 that I was being laid off. My employer provided the inspiration and kick start to my running 2 years earlier, and the support I received really encouraged me, especially whenever I hit a roadblock in my training. I became depressed and started to lose focus, especially after I reinjured my leg and couldn’t run for a couple of months. Then a friend introduced me to a new exercise group starting in Toledo, F3. 

The first F3 workout in Toledo was Saturday, May 13, 2017. Several men drove from 2 hours away in Cleveland to lead our first workout. These guys were intense! Full of energy and brotherhood, I was in awe of their determination and fun leading the workout. It astounded me that they would drive 4 hours round trip, leaving home before 5 AM, to help us workout. I completed the workout excited and drained physically. I had a lot of work to do to keep up with many of the men there. Afterwards, we had fellowship at a local restaurant. The bonds the Cleveland men shared reminded me of my fraternity days in college which were the best of my life. 

During the summer, I looked forward to those Saturday morning workouts. They kept me distracted from being unemployed as I continued my job search. Some of the men I already knew from church or work. Many new friendships were made. Several job interviews were outside the Toledo area, and I knew I would miss my new F3 brothers if I took one of these opportunities and moved away. Luckily, I found another job in the area and began working there at the end of July. 

F3 grew tremendously that summer and fall. The single Saturday morning workout grew to six in the Sylvania suburb of Toledo. Workouts began in another suburb, Perrysburg, and in downtown Toledo as well. I would split my week between my running and my F3 workouts. I gained confidence in many workouts that previously intimidated me. As the weeks progressed, I could feel myself getting stronger, both physically and with the quality of my new friendships and connections. 

Then winter came. Winters in Toledo can be cold and brutal. The previous 2 winters were mild, but the Arctic cold came in early December. For my first cold weather workout, I didn’t dress appropriately, and one of my F3 brothers lent me his gloves as my hands were numb. It happened again a couple of weeks later. The men gave me tips on how to dress and prepare myself for the cold. 

Soon, I was looking forward to my outdoor workouts, and I began running in very cold temperatures as well. Previously I would not run below 20 degrees F. One morning I ran 4 miles in -4 degrees F temperature and got a thrill from the challenge of conquering the cold. While other people were spending the winter hibernating indoors, I was still able to enjoy being outside, thanks to the tips taught to me by my F3 brothers. 

My first accomplishment of 2018 was doing an unassisted pull-up. For some of the strongest men in our group, they could do ten or more pull-ups during a workout. For me, however, pull-ups were always something I can never do – not even a single one. During one of our cold weather workouts in the snow, I managed three consecutive pull-ups. For me, always one with thin arms, this was a major achievement. 

I achieved a lot before F3, but this special group of men helped me during a low time in my life and helped me reach another level of physical strength that I previously thought was unattainable.

Less than a year into my F3 journey, I can’t wait to see how far this group can take me.

Tom “Bagels” Russell

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Story 22

You Get What You Give

Illustration by Vince “Pixar” Palko at AdToons

Wake up, take daughter to school, go to work, come home, play with kid/make dinner, put kid to bed, maybe watch a show with my wife, maybe workout, shower, and go to bed. Next day, rinse and repeat. This was a summary of my week for nearly the last 3 or more years. Before that, maybe a bit more active, but roughly the same. I haven’t had a group of guys that I would call my friends in over 10 years. There was a void in my life that not only wasn’t getting filled, I couldn’t imagine a way to fill it without negatively impacting those I loved the most. Enter F3.

I was at a soccer practice for my daughter when a tall, bald gentleman walked up to me and asked if I would be interested in a free men’s workout group starting in a week. It sounded interesting, but knowing how tight our schedule was, I was skeptical I’d be able to make it. I told him to send me the information and I’d let him know, but also told him I wouldn’t be able to make it for the first couple weeks due to my martial arts instruction on the weekend. I found out later that he never thought I’d show up and was doubtful when I said I’d be able to come Memorial Day weekend. The weeks quickly went by and Memorial Day had arrived. Already regretting my decision to get  up at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday out of my own free will, I was hesitant to go. However, I told the gentleman I would be there, and my brother in-law was going to meet me over there as well. 

I arrived at the local high school parking lot and there were nearly 30 plus guys gathered and warming up. An intimidating sight, yet I was feeling confident with the exercise time I had been putting in my basement and that I’d be able to hold my own. We circled up and a man who referred to himself as Buchanan was in the middle providing instruction. I was looking at him and also gaining some false confidence as he appeared to be in his fifties. So, I thought to myself, how hard could this really be? The next fifty minutes were a very humbling experience to say the least. There were a few times I felt like I was going to be sick and even more times where I was not able to complete all the reps of an exercise. I was cooked and immediately hooked.

Since that day, my experience with F3 has been a life changing whirlwind that would never have happened for me had it not been for a seemingly insignificant exchange of words and a leap of faith. Over the last 8 months I’ve: 

  • Gotten in the best shape of my life / lost 15lbs 
  • Worked out with my wife and planned and led workouts with her, which in turn has brought us closer together.
  • Regularly attended Bible study and helped me strengthen my faith.
  • Participated in various philanthropic endeavors.
  • Planned and led a 6-hour event that raised nearly $900 for charity.
  • Participated in a GoRuck Tough Endurance event.
  • Made friendships that will last a lifetime.

This list is not meant to come off as braggadocious or as a “look how much I’ve accomplished” sort of thing. Simply put, it is to show the power of F3 and what it can do for you if you put your heart into it. The beauty of it is that it can be whatever you want it to be, and like everything else, you will get out of it what you put into it. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the Colonel, the man who invited me to join F3 and help recharge my life. I’d like to send special thanks his way, as well as thanks to all my F3 brothers, who push me each and every day. 

See you in the gloom.

Joe “Splinter” LeBlanc

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Story 21

Men Providing Inspiration

Illustration by Vince “Pixar” Palko at AdToons

What F3 means to me…

When I was first approached about F3, I was skeptical. I thought OK, someone profits from this somewhere. It’s only a matter of time before someone starts asking me for money. But it never became that. 

F3 has brought me a brotherhood and friendships that I didn’t have in my life before. 

I can find a workout, a good workout, a lot of places. I can’t find the men in this group in just anyplace. These men have taught me to be a better Christian, a better father, and a better husband. They’ve taught me it’s OK to be vulnerable. You don’t have to have a “macho” persona. 

The men in this group are giving and caring. We look for ways to help and inspire. 

Being an older guy at 47, men in the group have told me my fitness level inspires them. I say to them, their compassion, humility, and Christianity inspires me.

Ron “Sipe” Vass

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Story 20

From Skeptic
to True Believer

Illustration by Vince “Pixar” Palko at AdToons

To be honest, I thought I was very happy with my life before F3. I’m married to an amazing woman and have 3 beautiful and healthy children. I’m blessed to have a large family with the majority of them in town. Things seemed to fall into place with nearly everything; the one exception was since kids came into the picture (10 years prior), I had not spent much time focusing on my health and fitness. This was further slowed by needing knee surgery to repair some injuries from years on the basketball court. After seeing some aging family members run into health troubles, I thought I needed to make the change now so I can be around for my kids down the road.

I was told about F3 from Matt “Stark” Yarder, and like many, I was skeptical and gave many reasons why I couldn’t join. His pitch and persistence had me eventually coming out in the “gloom” to join a group of guys I’ve never met before to perform “The Murph!” 

This was the first real exercising I had done since being injured and having surgery nearly 18 months prior. I will forever remember looking up at the sky during the pull ups with the rain hitting me in the face thinking, “What the &^%$ am I doing out here?” 

I remember I was sore for days and still not sure I was going to come back, but after a few posts, I started to understand that there was much more to F3 than just the fitness benefit. Hearing the stories of so many great guys in my community, with all of us working to improve ourselves for our families, community, and our impact during our time here was moving. 

The accountability and genuine support from the group was unlike anything I’ve seen before. I mentioned the other day at my first solo Q that two months ago I could barely think about doing a workout much less leading one! This group and this community have driven me to step outside my comfort zone and given me a gift and an opportunity to be a part of something great!

I find myself picking up various pieces of advice from the group that has helped me personally, professionally, and physically. The concept really has shown that whether you are a marathon runner or an aging out of shape former athlete, F3 allows you to be challenged and improve yourself. I am not one of the smaller guys in the group and was very hesitant to think I could fit in with the workout. I’ve been amazed at how quick the transformation and how the other PAX motivate everyone to do their best with positive reinforcement. I think the ideal of “never leave the 6 behind” is great because it keeps everyone together (and because that was me catching up to the group in the beginning). 

Stark told me he couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to meet the PAX, and I thought that sounded crazy. Now I get it, and I find myself in the same boat looking forward to starting my day with my F3 brothers. Having just gone through Christmas, I was able to participate and to see firsthand the impact as we helped numerous families with gifts, food, and having a brighter holiday than they would have otherwise had. 

After originally joining for the 1st F, I’ve come to embrace the 2nd and 3rd and see the importance of all 3. I feel that those principles have taken what I thought was a great and complete life and improved them with things I didn’t know were missing. To anyone reading this or interested, I would tell you, I was very skeptical and didn’t want to take the leap, but my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. To paraphrase a quote from Lou Holtz’ explanation of Notre Dame to explain F3…

“For those who are a part of F3, no explanation is necessary.
Those that aren’t a part of F3, no explanation will suffice.”

Michael “Poodle” Lagger

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Story 19

Facing the Challenge
Not Alone

Illustration by Vince “Pixar” Palko at AdToons

How did I get here?

The alarm is set with a “4” as the first digit and the little dot indicating PM is not illuminated. And surprisingly, I am already up, switching it off before it blurts out to disturb my wife. 

The alarm is set with a “4” as the first digit and the little dot indicating PM is not illuminated. And surprisingly, I am already up, switching it off before it blurts out to disturb my wife. 

The temperature in my closet weather station reads “3 degrees” from the sensor perched outside my window. My dog is looking at me with an expression seeming to say, “Are you really going out there this morning?” The weather app on my phone is advising strict avoidance of outdoor activities at all cost. I give myself a little reassuring chuckle, as I know what is imminent. I know in a few minutes I will be sucking in the frozen air at rates that will tempt my lungs to harden like concrete. I know my eyelids are going to need a small butane torch to unthaw before I can head back home. I know there are a dozen men in a dark parking lot with heavy metal objects, eagerly awaiting a chance to test each other’s breaking point. I can only equate the scene to a terrifying backdrop for a post-apocalyptic Hollywood flick. But here I am, excitedly debating on 4 or 5 layers for this morning’s mysterious task. In fact…I can’t wait! And I think again…How did I get here?

This awkward appreciation for discomfort is not innate in me. In fact, it is quite contradictory to most of my natural survival instincts. I spent most of my years behind the plastic shield of generations of video game consoles. Sure, I rode bikes around the neighborhood, played recreational sports, and did all those things kids do to find their way through adolescence, but I was never interested in pushing my physical limits. Heck it wasn’t until my college years that a friend showed me what a bench press was and my future wife encouraged me to strap on skis and attempt roller skating. Physical exploration of my abilities was a road not meant for me. Yet here I was, 2 pairs of gloves deep, preparing for a battle. 


Fast-forward through a couple years post college. A healthy lifestyle made sense. To the gym we go! I got my ear buds in, music just for me, membership paid. 2 months in and still killing it. 

Feeling good. Routine is setting in. Things come up. I will get there tomorrow. Routine stalling. Hit it hard next week. Membership renewal? Ok, I guess. Feeling guilty I am not using it enough. Mediocre motivation. Nothing to strive for. 

Sound familiar? Looking good in my swimsuit was just not enough for me to keep coming back to the comfort of a climate controlled, immaculately clean, big box gym. But, risk of frostbite, slipping on ice, and slush-soaked socks were not stopping me from lacing up my trail shoes this frigid morn. What is wrong with me now? 

Nine months ago, with my wife by my side, I headed out for one of Toledo’s cultural Spring traditions, the Mud Hens home opener. The city comes out in droves to welcome the change of seasons. For most, including myself, it is more of a chance to shake the cabin fever and be “seen” and less about baseball. And here is where the “emotional headlock” happened. I ran into an acquaintance at one of the rented-out suites filled with ball park dogs, sudsy beverages, and folks more interested in a new connection than what inning we were in. And he tells me about this new “thing” just starting in town. Says I would like it. Calls it F3.

“Huh? You say prayers and do push ups? OK? I will look into it.”

“Where is it?”


“What time? Ha! 7:00 on a Saturday morning?!” “OK?”

So I go home and lie in bed with my wife and type it in…“F 3 N A T I O N . C O M.” It’s all there. Exactly as he told me. I start reading about “smokefests” and “circles of trust” and “circles of  pain.” I read about nicknames and merkins. My wife and I both laugh as we scan through the lexicon of terms used to express the activities of this unique gathering of individuals. She questions my interest, but like always, she supports my endeavors. Plus, I told my acquaintance I will check it out. So I do. 


Nine months ago I knew nothing of cadences. I knew nothing about merkins. I could barely get up for 7:30 AM meetings at work. Now I have to control my urge to Q the next workout to give another member of our PAX the chance to experience this gift. I lay out clothes with a fevered passion the night before. I ask for sandbags from my wife for my Christmas gift so our PAX can carry them on our Tuesday rucks. And here I am excited for what has been promised on our group chat app as “100 % chance of pain in the forecast.” What could make a reasonably sensible man be so damn excited to wake at an hour that could still be considered “night,” just to hit dangerously cold temperatures for 45 mins of burpees and lunges? …Because I wasn’t facing it ALONE. I had warriors, brothers by my side now. They put out the battle cry the night before. I knew they were going to face the challenge in the gloom the next morning, and I wasn’t about to let them face it alone. 

Here’s where the real difference manifests itself from the traditional health routine. The challenge we face together is not the workout. It is how to be a good father. How to be the best husband and raise my M on the pillar she deserves. The challenge is to lead my company and provide mentorship and career advancement for all my employees. The challenge is to make a damn difference in my community. The challenge is to open myself up to my weaknesses and to combat and embrace them. Sure, we are putting in work, battling burpee mountains, squatting until we forgot our own ages in the COT, and feeling the best we have felt physically in our lives. But that is a side effect. I often tell new guys that if they are interested in this group solely for “biceps and abs and to be a hot dad, it’s not for you.” But if you want to live third, expand your leadership to new heights, honor your wife for the angel she is, embrace every moment with your children, and surround yourself with men that will never let you face a jester alone, then welcome to F3. 

As I am writing these thoughts, with my 4-year-old son hanging on my left arm, cuddling me while he eats his cereal, my 6-year-old daughter walks through the kitchen and asks what I am doing. I tell her I am writing a story. She is very into books so I knew where this was going. “What’s it about daddy?” I tell her it is about F3 and ask her what she thinks about it. 

“It makes daddy stronger in a happy way!” 

…I don’t think I can say it better than that.

Matt “Stark” Yarder

P.S. Cooter, thanks for the EH big man. You changed my life.

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